Call in UK for curb on foreigners’ voting rights

Irish residents not included in demands by influential Tory backbenchers

Brian Binley of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee: calls for changes to voting rights don’t include the Irish. Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Brian Binley of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee: calls for changes to voting rights don’t include the Irish. Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images

 

Demands by Conservative MPs for curbs on voting rights enjoyed by 1.5 million foreign-born residents in this year’s British general election do not cover the 350,000 Irish-born people living in Britain, a senior Conservative backbencher has said.

Earlier this week Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, said voters from countries that do not offer reciprocal voting rights to British people should not be able to vote in British elections.

Ireland does offer reciprocal voting rights to British citizens living in the Republic to vote in Dáil elections. This privilege is not offered to citizens from other EU states, who are restricted to voting in local and European Parliament elections.

Figures from the House of Commons show that 345,000 Irish-born voters are eligible to cast a ballot in May, along with 306,000 Indians, 180,000 Pakistanis, 73,000 Australians and 52,000 people from Zimbabwe.

Eligible voters born in Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Canada and Bangladesh could also prove to be significant in some constituencies, particularly inner-city ones that traditionally are home to newly arrived immigrants.

The growing influence of foreign-born voters is illustrated by figures from British Election Study, which show that nearly two-thirds of Indian and Pakistani-born voters supported Labour in 2010.

Labour’s support in that election among Caribbean-born voters and those from Africa was even higher, running at 78 per cent and 87 per cent respectively, according to British Election Study.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Brian Binley of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee said the calls for changes to voting rights don’t include the Irish: “We do see the relationship with Ireland as being very important and much more integrated, in truth.”

Irish-born voters living in Britain are “in a different category”, he said. “We have had a special relationship for centuries, for good or ill, and that is something I would argue very strongly to protect for the future,” he told The Irish Times.

 

Not by May 7th

In reality, there is no prospect of any change to voting rights affecting anyone before the May 7th election, particularly since prime minister David Cameron has been keen to encourage support for the Conservatives among south Asian communities.

 

Privately, senior Conservatives despair about the timing of Mr Brady’s remarks, coupled with similar remarks by former defence secretary Liam Fox, since they will be seized upon by Labour as it appeals to ethnic minorities.

In that light, the Labour Party’s Irish Society accused the Conservatives of pushing “totally unacceptable” proposals that would disenfranchise Irish voters living in Britain.